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How To Listen To & Play Music

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

As elders, we generally have more time to listen than when we were younger. Our hearing may not be as keen as when we were younger, but the motivation is there. In recent blog posts, I've explored WHAT we want to listen to and WHY. But there's more. HOW can we listen? Dame Evelyn Glennie (appointed by the Queen of England) teaches the world how to listen to both sound and silence in new ways.

By the age of 12, she could not hear with her ears, but she could feel sound throughout her body. Now in her late 50s, and though profoundly deaf, she chooses not to wear hearing aids. She performs barefoot, so that she can FEEL vibrations through the floor. "HEARING," she explains, "is basically a specialized form of TOUCH" (Hearing Essay, 2015).

At some point in our lives, we might want to play music, as well as listen to music. But how do we do this if we don't know much about music and haven't played an instrument at all or for a long time? Evelyn Glennie, who became the first full-time solo percussionist in the world and owns more than 2000 instruments, teaches us how.

In the 2022 children's book Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, A Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion, by Shannon Stocker, Dame Glennie explains how a percussion teacher, Ron Forbes, struck the timpani drum, and asked her, "Evelyn, where can you feel that sound in your body?" Her whole body became one giant ear.

Dame Glennie's listening approach is congruent with the "whole person" recommendations for long-term care community members by the State of California and nationwide. She found other ways to listen than through her ears when she was a child. When our hearing is impaired, we can find other ways to listen at any age or stage. How do you, or could you, apply this concept with hearing challenged members of your community?

We can sing and dance and play all types of music with elders in eldercare communities and with children. We've shared an assortment of instruments, beginning percussion and wind, bells, chimes, all the way up to keyboards and pianos. We've listened to vinyl records and all kinds of electronic and battery-operated sound devices, as well as drummed on pots and pans and glasses and anything else we can find that makes noise.

Upon reading about Evelyn Glennie and listening to her music (much of which is free on YouTube), we can be motivated to learn how to LISTEN WITH OUR ENTIRE BODY, not just with our ears.

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The video that accompanies this blog post, Evelyn Glennie World Premier of 'Cosmos' 31 Oct 2011, shows Dame Glennie in action, incorporating both sound and silence in her composition. As you view and listen to the video, here are some things to think about:

  • How does her body "listen" to sound? to silence?

  • How does she involve other members of the orchestra in the way she plays and listens to music?

  • What does the conductor do when she plays music?

  • How is she different from most musicians?

  • What did you learn about listening from viewing this video?

Here's a fun activity (borrowed from Dame Glennie's 2003 TED Talk) to do yourself and then share with members of your community:

  • What does thunder sound like?

  • What does snow sound like?

  • What does rain sound like?

  • How are you making this sound?

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